Beyond the Mountains of Madness : A man, a blackmail plan...Panama
by, 6th February 2012 at 07:35 PM (628 Views)
September 19th 1933
On the morning of September the 19th, 1933 the S.S.Gabrielle arrives at Colon (the Atlantic side of Panama canal). They reach the first gates where large electric train-tugs pull the ship into the locks, and the water level is raised.
As the group sit around on deck,watching as the water level rises in the lock, Henning serves them with a drink. The sun warms them, and the stress filled days of New York seem far away. They are joined by some of the off duty crew, and ships engineer Bert Pacquare starts a small poker game to pass the time.
They discuss the Panama canal, and the likely queues waiting at the next set of locks. Rumours picked up by Pacquare suggests that bribery is rife amoungst the Panamanians, and that for a suitable sum, the queues can be jumped.
Reaching the inland lake on the other side of the lock, they sit and watch the verdant green landscape pass, capuchin monkeys climbing in the trees on the shore line and canoes laden with bananas tied up on makeshift piers leading to inland plantations.
They fall to discussing Mrs Chippy's latest escapades with the expedition huskies, Ford's romantic entanglements with Mandy Carnegie, and the Roerich kidnap. Provided with a constant stream of food and drink by Henning, the first stage of the transit is very relaxed.
At the next set of locks, there is indeed a queue of five or six ships ahead of the Gabrielle, and waiting seems to be the order of the day. Even the wind seems to feel a lack of urgency, barely blowing at all, and as the afternoon wears on, the still hot air begins to get uncomfortable. The group head downstairs to escape the heat, and emerge in the later afternoon, by which time the ship has made it past the second set of docks, and arrived in the bay outside Panama city.
Ford and Romford propose a "leg stretch" in the city, possibly as a prelude to sourcing some of the supplies lost during the dockside fire in New York. Joined by Dibden and Fitzwilliam, they get a crew member to row them to shore, and they explore a dockside packed with stalls selling uncooked (and cooked) food, tequila, cloths, hats, and souvenirs. Local women walk around wearing bowler hats and brightly coloured shawls, fresh fruit balanced in baskets hoisted on their shoulders.
Ford buys a sombrero and some postcards of the nearby capuchin infested island, known as Monkey Island. The hat seller assures him that the island is "cursed..." but that they will be safe as long as they don't land.
First on Ford and Dibdens agenda are, unsurprisingly, women and a bar. A likely bar advertising "dancing girls" and "American beer" is found in short order, and the four decide to spend the evening there. They strike up a conversation with the bar staff while they listen to the band play a selection of latin rhythms while two pretty girls dance on stage.
As obviously affluent tourists, they soon attract the attention of the dancers, Lola* and Maria, who come over to talk to them. The dancers prove a good source of information, and confirm that the Tallahasse sailed through some time before. They mention seeing the Habourmaster, who is well known take bribes, meet with some members of the Lexington team. A certain amount of flirtation ensues , to the delight - and embaressment - of the sheltered Fitzwilliam.
Romford history as a pilot in the war also attracts the attention of the Lola and Maria.
"Is it true you airmen were only expected to last 17 minutes during the war?" Lola asks wickedly, her voice dripping with innuendo.
As a flummoxed Romford searchs for a reply, a jealous Fitzwilliam mutters "Yes...f-f-firing blanks".
As the evening wears on, they arrange to meet Moore,who is a little flustered. "Apparently we need some permits to buy our supplies, but the Harbour master is refusing to sign..."
The group are not surprised, voicing suspicion that the Lexington expedition have bribed the habourmaster. After Moore leaves, they determine to resolve the permits situation by fair means - or foul.
A further conversation with Lola turns up the fact that the Harbour master has a particularly formidable wife, who he avoids by going to bars after work. The barman, Hector, adds that according to rumour, the Harbourmaster has a mistress somewhere in town.
The potential for blackmail is then discussed. Fitzwilliam returns to the boat to fetch his camera - bumping into Bert Pacquare on the way , who seems to be taking a distinct interest in a ladies dress in a shop window**.
On Fitzwilliams return, they decide to shadow the harbour master. This brings dividends later that evening as they follow him back to his mistress' residence, a narrow four story colonial era house.
Desperate to get photographs suitable for blackmail, Ford and Fitzwilliam risk climbing a drainpipe to reach the balcony of the residence while the others keep look out. Peering in through a gap in the blinds, they catch a glimpse of the Harbour Master with his mistress. A dozen photographs later, they shin back down the drainpipe, and head home for the ship....
* Yes, the bar IS called the Copacabana. why do you ask ?
** All will be revealed*** later
*** No, not in that way. Behave.